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Oberlin Behind the Scenes

March 24, 2012

Most of the pictures you see of Oberlin are gorgeous. They showcase the most striking buildings, from the most interesting angles, in the most flattering weather. In all the Oberlin communications publications--the viewbooks, the websites, the Oberlin Hopefuls Facebook page--the photos are carefully chosen to make this place look classy. And it does.

But what about the Oberlin the official publications don't show you, the Oberlin that you walk through every day? A whole lot of it actually does look as attractive as our publications show. But there's more to buildings than the facades we usually show you, and I think that these back angles are, if not as aesthetically pleasing, even more visually interesting than the fronts.

Have a look.

Above: The path between Carnegie, the admissions building, and Asia House. Carnegie looks very bland from this angle, which is strange considering how striking its front is!

Asia House doesn't get enough press. It's very pretty, but it's tucked away behind Fairchild Chapel and Carnegie on one side and Stevenson Dining Hall on the other. Moreover, it's kind of hidden away in itself. It was the old theological school way back when, and designed like a monastery, with three wings in a U right against the back of Fairchild Chapel, forming a central courtyard.

The courtyard, seen from the Fairchild Chapel side.
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The courtyard from the opposite side.
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A stained glass window of Fairchild Chapel.
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Talcott is one of the oldest buildings on campus. It's made of stone, with big towers--the second-most Hogwartsian edifice, after Peters--and it can best be described as "stately." Above: the rear view.

Baldwin Cottage--Women's Collective--is at least as old and cool-looking as Talcott. It has some other building grafted onto the back. (I think this the kitchen of Third World Co-Op.)
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Above: the new jazz building from the rear approach. They're fixing something up on the roof, and this bucket-chain is how the rubble is disposed of. I immediately thought of Home Alone and the kinds of uses that kid would put it to.
For some reason, there's a little nook between two sections of the jazz building, with the concrete of Bibbins (the building that houses the rest of the conservatory) making its back. Whenever I say "Bibbins," I think of hobbits. It just sounds like a name for a hobbit, or perhaps a kitten.
It was the first of several very nice days when I was taking these pictures. Some jazz students were taking advantage of the weather to practice outside, and very kindly granted me permission to take pictures.
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There's a parking lot behind the jazz building, the other sides of which are formed by the backs of the stores lining College Street and Main Street. The buildings are textured, the skyline attention-grabbing. My friend Guy, who grew up in New York, said it looks like a little bit of Queens.

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Above: The top of FAVA--the local art gallery--peeks over the buildings.
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Above: There's a mural on the back of the bookstore.
Above: Just beyond the other corner of the jazz building is the Oberlin Heritage Center.
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This is the side of a bank, I think.
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There's another cool little area behind the Apollo, Oberlin's movie theater (currently undergoing its second round of renovations in four years).

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The back door to the Ginko Gallery, famed for its foster kittens.
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Here's the Apollo itself.

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And finally, the back of the newer development, a block of businesses (with condos on the upper stories) that opened up last year. Slow Train, the coffee shop, is here, with Cow Haus Creamery, home of Oberlin's most delicious and crazy ice cream flavors, next door. Infinite Monkey, the comic book store, moved from Main Street to a new, bigger location here.

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Responses to this Entry

Tess I think this is one of my favorite pictures of yours ever

Posted by: Emma on March 25, 2012 7:52 AM

Aw, thank you! I can send it to you if you'd like. :)

Posted by: Tess on March 25, 2012 9:49 AM

Ooo yes please!

Posted by: Emma on March 25, 2012 12:13 PM

I didn't realize how many of the backs of buildings I experience every day until I realized that, in giving a walking tour to some visitors, that I cut through about 4 parking lots to get to where we wanted to go. It's not that they aren't beautiful perspectives of our campus, it's just not the known ones.

What I'm trying to say is that I'm really glad you wrote this post.

Posted by: Ma'ayan on March 26, 2012 2:06 PM

I don't really have anything intelligent to say about this post, but I love these photos and the concept for this post and I thought you should know that.

Posted by: Emily on March 26, 2012 4:08 PM

Aww, thanks, guys!

Posted by: Tess on March 26, 2012 4:26 PM

Hi Tess,

I write with a strange question from a faraway country.
I work for the collective Rotor in Brussels (www.rotordb.org) We're currently preparing an big exhibition on sustainability in architecture. That will take place in Oslo, 2013.
Since you're interested in the backdoor stories, I thought you might be the right person for this question:
I heard from a colleague in Berkeley a year ago that once in a while, students at Oberlin receive a mail asking them to pass by the Adam Joseph Lewis Centre to use the toilets there, since the building is relying upon the energy diverted from the black water here. We'd love to have a copy of that mail.
Have you ever received that mail? Do you know someone at the Lewis Centre who might help me out?

Best,
Lionel Devlieger

Posted by: Lionel Devlieger on November 6, 2012 9:59 AM

Hi Lionel,

What you're talking about is the twice-yearly Poop Campaign. I don't think the toilets in question are actually in the AJLC itself, but in a related building next door. I'm not sure if they get power from the, ah, by-products or just use it for compost; I've never done it myself, alas, since I'm not usually in that area during the Poop Campaign and usually forget to use the special toilet when I am.

I'm pretty sure the toilet is always functional, but it gets advertised more during these campaigns, and you can get quarters for using it. Quarters make laundry machines work and are thus excellent bribes. I don't recall getting an e-mail about it, but there are usually posters up everywhere carrying the slogan "Give a shit for the environment!"

I'm sorry I can't help you more! You could try e-mailing some of the professors in the Environmental Studies department; I don't know who exactly is involved with which projects, but any of them could help you get the information you need.

Hope that helps,
Tess

Posted by: Tess on November 6, 2012 11:05 AM

@Lionel: A little googling reveals the following information, which may be helpful to you. (The toilets in question are in fact those in the AJLC.)

http://ocpoops.tumblr.com/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidferris/2012/05/08/oberlin-college-persuades-students-to-change-their-poop-habits/

Posted by: David on November 6, 2012 1:31 PM

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